Spellers of the World UNTIE—Spell-check Before Tattooing!
Could Aristotle spell, or was it all Greek to him?
Posted August 5, 2010
Professors at Cambridge University seem hell-bent on destroying English spelling and literacy. First they publish faulty research on the efficacy of teaching spelling and then they deface the Classics Department building on their revered campus by misspelling Aristotle's very own words at the entrance. Aristotle would not be amused. Widespread disinterest and misunderstanding of the importance of spelling for literacy is now showing up on some of our most revered cultural icons-the tattooed bodies of celebrities. It's revolting!
I wrote my doctoral dissertation at the University of Virginia and three books on spelling (Spel. . .Is a Four-Letter Word, The Science of Spelling, Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read-From From Baby to Age 7) but what really makes me an expert is my personal experience with dyslexia: I harbor the telltale sign of my young life as a dyslexic--life-long, lousy spelling. I'm speaking out on the importance of spelling--today!
From Cambridge University
It's just infuriating every time someone sends me that ubiquitous scrambled spelling ditty that has spread across the universe via Internet and YouTube attributed to some unidentified researcher at Cambridge University. (If you know of such a study please send it to me!) It goes something like this:
Olny srmat poelpe can raed this:
I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rgh it pclae. ( Yadda, yadda, yadda. . .) Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs psas it on !!
The study is probably fake and if it is based on a true study, faulty assumptions have given rise to misjudgments which have cascaded into ruinous situations in everyday life. (See comment on tattoo misspellings below!) Spelling is important!
Spelling is Important for Beginning Readers
The truth is that spelling is crucial for acquiring literacy, after all, the alphabetic code is based on spelling--visual patterns (letters) map on to the speech sounds for words. No child would learn to read from scrambled spelling such as that in the Cambridge ditty--there is not enough pattern to it. But the spelling created by a young child such as HMT DPT for Humpty Dumpty is a natural phase in her journey to conventional English spelling. The reason you can read "slpeling is ipmorant" is that you already have the correct spellings stored in the word form area in the left occipito-temporal zone of your brain--likely the area where you can "see" the spelling in your mind within 250 milliseconds of thinking about how it is spelled or seeing it scrambled on the page. (E. Paulesu et el. "Dyslexia: Cultural Diversity and Biological Unity." SCIENCE 291 (2001): 2165-2167.)
Given the redundancy of English, the beginning and ending letters, the scrambled-spelling author's cheating tactic of spelling little words like is, it, on, and you correctly, and your knowledge of grammar and meaning, your smart brain plucks the correctly spelling right out of your occipito-temporal dictionary-almost automatically. (Parents of babies to 7-year-olds, see exactly how beginning readers develop as spellers and track you own child's spelling/reading progress in Raising Confident Readers).
Spelling Is Important for Older Students
In 2010 a report was released by the Carnegie Foundation providing new evidence for how writing (and spelling) can improve your child's reading. Entitled "Writing to Read." the report highlights two major findings that support teaching spelling: Students' reading skills, comprehension, and reading fluency were improved by teaching spelling, and teaching spelling skills improved word reading skills. In other words, strong readers are better spellers and low spelling skills hinder a student's reading. It's important to ask: Does your child have a research-based spelling book? Is she learning to spell in school?
Spelling Is Important if you Are Getting a Tattoo
Being conscious of correct spelling is important in everyday life! Spelling errors topped the list of résumé-writing sins singled out by 2,500 recruiters and headhunters in a survey by RésuméDoctor, a career-services company in Burlington, VT. But the most recent shocking revelation of being permanently labeled as ignorant due to poor spelling is Ben Widdicombe's recent article, "There's No Need to Spell It Out" in the New York Times (August 1, 2010). (see also Poparazzi-Ink Stain)
He exposed cultural icons who walk around with misspelled words tattooed on to their bodies. Ben says there is something "jarringly inarticulate" about a tattoo--especially one with a misspelling. Reportedly David Beckham misspelled his wife's name (in Hindi) on the tattoo on his arm and Rihanna has a misspelled Sanskrit prayer on her right hip. I haven't verified these reports personally, but blame their third grade teachers-blame the schools-they did not teach spelling consciousness! Poor spelling can hurt your child and last forever--or at least until maintenance replaces the door to the Classics Building at Cambridge . If you or your child is getting a tattoo, for goodness sake, check the spelling!
I repeat, spellers of the world UNTIE!
(Dr. Gentry is the author of Spelling Connections, 2012, a spelling textbook for grades K-6.)